When researching a dedicated server solution, many people are concerned with the management and administration of the server. For some people, the ability to manually install PHP modules or configure an Apache web server's Virtual Host functionality to host multiple websites. But not everyone is a system administrator, and not everyone is truly experienced when it comes to configuring the Linux operating system and the multitude of services it can provide. This is where a control panel comes in.
A control panel makes it much easier, both from an administrative and end user standpoint, to make things happen on a dedicated server. The majority of our servers run the cPanel control panel, which is one of the leading control panels for Linux-based dedicated servers. One of the questions a lot of people ask me is if cPanel will be able to meet all of their hosting needs. Of course, this answer depends on what their needs are. The majority of web hosting needs are covered by cPanel, from DNS Record management to PHP module installation. The EasyApache script provides a one-stop-shop when it comes to installing and configuring Apache and PHP and their respective modules. A majority of the available modules for Apache and PHP are available, as well as the ability to fine tune the versions of each service that are installed (with some limitations). With cPanel, you also have an easy-to-use interface to managing your e-mail accounts, e-mail forwarders, auto-responders, and the like. Furthermore, it provides an excellent interface for the handling of DNS server zone files and makes migration of accounts from one server to another incredibly easy to do. Some of the other functions available in cPanel include automated creation and installation of SSL Certificates and even has a third party applications interface that allows for installation of application servers such as Tomcat and server monitoring software such as Munin. Plus, there are reseller functions built into the control panel to allow for resellers to re-brand and manage their own configurations for their clients, and there are third party developers that have developed software packages intended with cPanel in mind, such as the CSF Firewall package and Fantastico Deluxe WHM Admin.
However, before you decide on a control panel, there are some things you should know. With cPanel, it is solely intended as a web hosting platform, and nothing more. If you are trying to install a Game Server, want to install an Asterisk VoIP Server, or run a MySQL server cluster, cPanel won't be of much help in that department. The behind-the-scenes area of cPanel involves many configuration file templates, specially written shell scripts, and custom packages that are not found on your typical vanilla Linux server. As such, some of these more specialized functions may not be supported (especially when it comes to automatic installation and configuration of some of the less-popular third party scripts), and some things just plain won't work due to the way the back end configurations are performed. Configuration files are often rewritten and may wipe out custom changes if not applied via Include files (files that are intended for custom configuration entries that won't be modified in any way by the control panel) or if a template is not modified to statically keep your custom change. Furthermore, if you wish to migrate your custom changes to another server or you perform an update that overwrites a template on the server, your changes could be lost or may need to be reapplied once the migration or update has been completed.
With all that said, it's clear that if you are looking for a great web hosting control panel, you need look no further. The majority of web hosting needs are easily fulfilled with a cPanel dedicated server, and you will be able to spend less time pulling your hair out trying to learn complicated scripting languages and confusing command line interfaces, and more time enjoying the ease-of-use of your dedicated hosting platform.